At 14, April N. West suffered from aches and pains in her hips and knees. Her mother attributed it to “growing pains” and gave her dosages of over-the-counter pain reliever.
“The last thing that was on my mother’s mind was that I had arthritis,” West said. “Initially, I didn’t let the discomfort slow me down. I lived through the pain and didn’t think it was abnormal.”
The Arthritis National Research Foundation states that symptoms in a child’s body are typically written off by many parents who think the child’s swollen joints and fever are caused by a flu bug, or their unexplained rash might have occurred from an allergic reaction.
When West was a college student, her joint pain intensified.
“Simple things like shifting gears in my car became so painful and unmanageable, I went to a clinic to find out what was wrong,” West said. “Because I had symptoms in my lungs, I was misdiagnosed with Lupus.”
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases explains that Lupus, is a complicated, unpredictable disease of the immune system causing inflammation and/or damage to connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin, along with the membranes surrounding or within the brain, heart, kidneys and lungs.
Terrified about the word and understanding about Lupus, West didn’t go back to the doctor. Within six months after the Lupus diagnosis, she experienced extreme fatigue, joint pain, shortness of breath, and the inability to walk long distances.
“I could no longer walk to class,” said West who attended Savannah State College, now known as Savannah State University, and majored in computer information systems.
While enrolled in college, West lived with her grandmother who became increasingly concerned.
“My grandmother had to help me with ordinary daily chores — make my bed, prepare my meals, and dress me,” West said. “My grandmother knew something was wrong.”
West was 20 years old, always sleeping, but still too tired to do anything for herself. West’s grandmother took her to the emergency room.
After a battery of tests, a week in the hospital, and being examined by a group of doctors, it was finally concluded by a rheumatologist that West had a mixed connective tissue disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
“I had no idea that would mark the beginning of a lifetime of taking medications, hospital stays and adapting to a new lifestyle,” West said.
Many people, including West, believed that arthritis affects only older adults.
“Arthritis is not a normal part of aging, not everyone gets it. It is a disease that comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it is heredity and sometimes it is not,” she said.
West’s grandmother also was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Nearly 300,000 children under the age of 18 in America have arthritis or other conditions. There are more than 100 types of arthritis.
The National Institutes of Health Pediatric Rheumatology Clinic cites that children can develop almost all types of arthritis that affect adults, but the most common type that affects children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, often referred to as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which appears in children as young as 6 months and as old as 18 years.
National statistics report that two-thirds of people with arthritis are under age 65 and more than 50 million Americans have arthritis. Of those, 4.6 million are African American.
West started treatment and took a break from school. She went into remission in 1995 for about two years with no symptoms. She moved from Savannah to Atlanta and was off medication.
In 1997, West’s symptoms returned with a vengeance and has not let up. Her regimen is disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs known as DMARDS taken twice daily and biologic injections every two weeks to give her relief and stop further deterioration of her joints.
West has learned to cope with living with her arthritis.
“It causes inflammation in my joints and lungs, which make me cough constantly,” she said. “Depending on the type of flare ups, it can cause pain and anemia.” In the meantime, acupuncture and massage therapy helps with West’s pain and swelling.
West found a support system and in-depth knowledge from the Arthritis Foundation. She also found a way to help others. In 2000, West, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, “caught the philanthropic spirit.”
In 2015, she was named the Walk To Cure Arthritis Atlanta – Adult Honoree. Currently, West is the 2016 Walk to Cure Arthritis National Adult Honoree and continues to talk about RA especially during the month of July which is designated as Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month. Her mission is to dispel the belief that children are immune from arthritis, to educate the public about the disease, and the ongoing fight for a cure.
In spite of her condition, West travels the country to offer hope for those affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
“Keep moving your joints, fight through the pain, to help prevent or slow down the possibility of developing arthritic issues,” she says.
West’s journey is to be a part of the cure and is actively raising funds. She says, “To Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have the faith of a mustard seed that with advances in technology, progressive pharmaceuticals and by sharing my journey we will find a cure for this debilitating disease in my lifetime.” To date, West has raised $7,500 toward her $10,000 goal.
“Join me in the fight to find a cure and step up to be a Champion of Yes,” West says.
Donations to honor West as the 2016 Walk to Cure Arthritis National Adult Honoree can be made at http://walktocurearthritis.org/atlanta/mizzwest.
For more information about rheumatoid arthritis and to get support, email West at email@example.com and connect with:
• The Arthritis National Research Foundation at http://www.curearthritis.org/funding-arthritis-research/
• Juvenile Arthritis Association at http://juvenilearthritis.org/
• Mayo Clinic at http://www.mayoclinic.org/
• The American College of Rheumatology at http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver
• National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases at http://www.niams.nih.gov/
• Penn Medicine at https://www.pennmedicine.org/arthritis
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.